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Sunday, May 27, 2012
Yahoo Shutters Flipboard Competitor After Just 6 Months
6 Crowdfunding Mistakes That Can Kill a Campaign
Should Entrepreneurs Collect Unemployment?

Fancy Hands: The Most Helpful Startup in the World
Saturday, May 26, 2012 7:00 PMJoann Pan

The Spark of Genius Series highlights a unique feature of startups and is made possible by Microsoft BizSpark. If you would like to have your startup considered for inclusion, please see the details here.

Name: Fancy Hands

Quick Pitch: Delegate work to a smart and savvy band of personal assistants for $25 to $95 a month.

Genius Idea: Fancy Hands lets you hand off time-consuming, menial tasks to reliable web-based assistants.

Ever want to pay someone to sit on hold for you? Or to compile a list of the best gluten-free food in your area? Fancy Hands is a NYC-based startup that lets you do just that. The web-based service makes extra help affordable with flat rates.

Fancy Hands offers the services of personal assistants to the masses. The company's fleet of professional contractors, located throughout the U.S., are always available for service requests around the clock. The army of assistants will do almost anything that doesn't involve them getting up from their chairs.

Fancy Hands specializes in research, making phone calls and returning emails. Popular requests also include arranging appointments, finding local services, transcribing small chunks of audio or compiling lists. For a better idea of the range of services, check out Fancy Hands' list of common requests.

Members can submit requests from anywhere in the world to Fancy Hands. Submissions are received by email, by phone or through Basecamp. Requests are usually completed on the same business day. Tasks may take a couple minutes or an hour depending on details.

The two-year-old startup was created by Ted Roden at a busy point in his life. He had his first child and signed a book deal in the same week. With a full-time job as a developer at The New York Times, he needed help with small, everyday tasks. Roden built the service around his own need.

"If I wanted to do anything outside my core area of responsibilities, I just couldn't get it done," Roden tells Mashable. "If I wanted to make a reservation to take my wife out to dinner, I wasn't able to do it. So, I said maybe I could get someone to do this for me."

Roden eventually finished the book and turned his startup dream into a profitable business with the help of freelance assistants.

Fancy Hands is based in NYC's SoHo. Its six full-time employees of programmers and developers are building new features within the website. It's a well-oiled system. Speed and quality are top priorities for the team of handpicked assistants, Roden says. Everything is quality-checked before completion. Detailed reports are written up for each task, stating the amount of time spent and specific actions taken to get the task done.

"All the communication is logged," he says. "You can get a good sense on how much we're working on a task for you. At the end of the day, you can say, my time is worth $10 an hour. If someone sat on the phone two to three times on the phone for me, I saved a lot of money."

The startup's goal is to make life easier for everyone. Roden wants to revolutionize the way people work the same way the Internet changed airline ticket purchases. Before Orbitz, Expedia and other websites to compare flights, the only option for customers looking to fly was calling the airline or travel agent. Instead of being able to compare prices and buy the cheapest tickets, customers had to agree to whatever the airline agents told them.

"The Internet came along and now it's almost hard to remember how it was before," Roden says. "I want to do that for other things. In the future, I want people to say 'For scheduling, I can't believe I used to email back and forth.' I want that to happen for a lot of aspects in your life."

Fancy Hands offers monthly rates as well as yearly packages. Get five requests a month for $25, 15 requests a month for $45 and unlimited requests for $95 per month.

What is the most time-consuming task in your day? Tell us in the comments if you would consider delegating specific tasks to personal assistants.

Image courtesy of Flickr, Bethan

Series Supported by Microsoft BizSpark

The Spark of Genius Series highlights a unique feature of startups and is made possible by Microsoft BizSpark, a startup program that gives you three-year access to the latest Microsoft development tools, as well as connecting you to a nationwide network of investors and incubators. There are no upfront costs, so if your business is privately owned, less than three years old, and generates less than U.S.$1 million in annual revenue, you can sign up today.

5 Startups Changing the World With Tech
Saturday, May 26, 2012 6:39 PMLauren Hockenson

In our social entrepreneurship series, The World at Work, Mashable interviews the faces behind the startups and projects that are working to make a global impact.

These companies provide technological solutions for non-profits, give fledgling startups a place to work and donate to charity every time a song is downloaded. While the companies are diverse, they are all on a mission to change our lives for the better and improve society.

Here's a roundup of featured projects from the last week, including exclusive video interviews with the founders of these innovative startups. To read more and watch the videos, click through to the full story, and follow the series to learn about more breakthrough companies.

1. Blackbaud

Big Idea: Blackbaud provides customized organizational and fundraising solutions for non-profits, not only focusing on resources needed but also the overall goals of each company.

Why It's Working: From the biggest non-profits to small, one-person operations, Blackbaud has low-cost solutions for non-profits with a variety of missions. And, it just increased its power with the acquisition of web service Convio.

Read the full story here.

2. Green Spaces

Big Idea: Green Spaces provides coworking office space in New York City and Denver to social entrepreneurs and non-profits.

Why It's Working: Green Spaces does more than provide social companies a place to work. Networking opportunities, an intern program and a referral network are available to companies that call Green Spaces home.

Read the full story and see the video here.

3. Givey

Big Idea: Givey provides a payment platform for users to easily donate to charities through Twitter and text messaging.

Why It's Working: The service lets people make "on-the-fly donations" with short tweets and SMS that benefit charities. Givey 2.0, launching in August, will act as a record of all donations and rank users by their charitable acts.

Read the full story here.

4. The Adventure Project

Big Idea: The Adventure Project is an alternative funding organization that supports entrepreneurs in developing countries, with the goal of producing one million jobs within the next ten years.

Why It's Working: With a series of ambitious projects ranging from healthcare to hunger, the Adventure Project provides funding to entrepreneurs in multiple countries. These localized initiatives bring about real change in both the local economy and the quality of life in areas that are desperate for solutions.

Read the full story and see the video here.

5. FairShareMusic

Big Idea: FairShareMusic sells millions of songs and vows to give at least half of its net profits to charities that address major issues, such as world hunger, cancer research and endangered species.

Why It's Working: The website infuses philanthropy into music fans' lives. The more a user downloads songs, the more donations are made to charities all over the world.

Read the full story here.

What do you think of the efforts of these startups and foundations? Let us know in the comments below.

School Cellphone Ban Spawns Thriving Niche Storage Market
Saturday, May 26, 2012 1:56 PMJoann Pan

Mobile devices have become like wallets -- among the must-have items on your person when you leave the house. Teens are no exception to this rule, but for New York City's students, this poses a real problem.

The New York Board of Education has banned the use of electronics in public schools since the 1980s. For years, there was an "out of sight, out of trouble" policy. Recently, new safety precautions such as metal detectors and backpack checks upon entry, have made it harder for middle school and high school students to smuggle their gadgets into classes. Electronics are confiscated on sight.

Two years ago Vernon Alcoser, a Bronx businessman and federal correctional officer, came up with a unique solution for the problem. His big idea -- to provide mobile storage for students to store gadgets during the school day. In 2010 Alcoser and his sister Theresa bought a white truck and painted the side with a blue "Pure Loyalty Electronic Device Storage" decal. Parked outside Herbert H. Lehman High School in the Bronx, high school students flocked to the truck's small window to turn in their electronics for $1 -- two gadgets for $1.50.

"A friend called me and said her daughter was storing her cellphone in grocery stores and bodegas in the area," Alcoser tells Mashable. were going away from the direction of school in order to do that. I thought if we brought storage closer to the schools, it would be a favor to the kids."

The mobile gadget storage business is now booming and the owners expect to expand.

There is certainly a ready market for school-day cellphone storage: The NYC Department of Education (DOE) serves 1.1 million students in over 1,700 schools.

And unlike their suburban counterparts, New York City students generally take public transportation to school. Their commutes can rival those of adult workers in length and complexity.

Every day, Roci Cepeda travels 30 minutes each way from Brooklyn to Washington Irving High School in Manhattan.Students come in to this school from all other boroughs, arriving as early as 7 a.m.

"I need itin case I need to communicate with someone," Cepeda says. "In case of an emergency."

Parents often want to be able to communicate with their children. Many are enthusiastic about Pure Loyalty's service.

"We have a lot of parents that call us and ask if we can come to a particular school because they want to stay in contact with their kids that are going and coming home from school," says Alcoser.

SEE ALSO: Is Total Gadget Immersion Good or Bad for Kids?/a>

Jose Garcia, a business student at Bronx Community College, works in the truck each weekday from 7 a.m. to around 5 p.m. -- or when the last phone is returned. At schools where metal detectors have been installed at entrances, current students reported having leaving their cellphones at corner stores, delis and markets nearby where owners would watch them for $1.

It's a system Garcia is familiar with. "When I was in high school, we used to leave our phones in grocery stores," he says. "This is a brilliant idea."

The trucks are staffed with two employees at all times. Once the truck is parked and collecting phones, the vehicle never leaves, so students may retrieve their property whenever it's convenient. Phones are stored in sleeves and students are given security cards with a unique word or code to ensure correct returns. At Washington Irving, roughly 300 to 400 phones are stored each day. A other locations, Pure Loyalty collects an average of 500 to 700 gadgets a day.

Another sign of the venture's success is the number of copycat services that have sprung up since its inception.

"A lot of competition has formed based on them seeing us on the news," Alcoser says. "There are a few other companies -- I don't know licensed or insured like us."

Pure Loyalty pays insurance that protects phones if truck is lost, stolen or damaged. It has a $2 million insurance policy that covers just the phones. NYC DOE officials conducted thorough background checks on the company its staff, according to Alcoser. He says Pure Loyalty is welcomed by the city's public schools because the service keeps the students and their property safe.

"The school doesn't want the kids to leave," he said. "For them, to send the child who came to school away with a phone is not in the school's best interest."

Check out these photos of the Pure Loyalty storage truck outside Washington Irving High School:

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